A guide to hiring a landscape architect and designer

Why call a Landscape Architect and Designer?

If you have grander designs for your gardening project than a few flower beds and a water feature, a Landscape Architect and Designer will be able to advise you in your plans. While a Garden Designer will be able to deal with most residential garden projects, a larger gardening endeavour will need different knowledge and greater attention - from public parkland to golf courses to private office complexes, any large-scale work on the outdoor environment will require the specialist skills of a Landscape Architect.

Since their task is to help a development sit comfortably in its surrounding environment, their work often goes unnoticed – how many people would look at a beautiful building and marvel at which way it’s facing?!

Although a Landscape Architect may be expensive to hire, their expertise will make all the difference to any large outdoor work - with this in mind, it is important to fully understand the kind of work you should expect of them.

Where do they fit in?

Landscape Architects will often come to a project early in the design stage, when their understanding of space and the natural environment can be brought to the fore. They will work alongside Architects, Surveyors and Developers to produce plans that make best use of the available space.

Once the project is underway, their role will be to ensure the contractors follow these designs through. This will involve both office work (they will deal with issues like planning permission) and frequent trips to the site itself.

What kind of services do they provide?

Landscape Architects and Designers usually offer a variety of services, ranging from garden work like turf-laying and tree-planting to large-scale land drainage work, and from creating car parks and footpaths to producing environmental assessments of land areas - their work is very much tailored to the requirements of each individual project.

In most cases, Landscape Architects will approach their work from an ecological, environmental perspective. For this reason, it is essential that the Landscape Architect and Designer be involved early in your project, when they can contribute fully to the design stages.

Though the professions are largely interchangeable, someone who advertises solely as a Landscape Designer will usually specialise in green space projects (large gardens, parks etc.).

Where to look

Many Landscape Architects advertise in the local directory, but it is a good idea to search online, where you will usually be able to view photographs of their previous work. It is also good to get a recommendation from someone who has used the landscape architect's services in the past if at all possible.

Once you have found a Landscape Architect you may want to hire, arrange a meeting to discuss your plans. The designer will be able to show you portfolios of any similar work they have done in the past. You may wish to bring photographs of the plot you want to renovate to get the Landscape Architect’s first impressions and ideas.

What kind of qualifications should I look for?

Many larger firms will not hire a newly graduated Landscape Architect until they have completed some additional work placements and in-house training, but even for a freelancer, a BA in Landscape Architecture is a minimum to work in the profession. A portfolio that suits your tastes is the main qualification you should really be looking for.

Some questions to ask

  • Have you worked on any projects similar to mine before?
  • Do you have a portfolio I can look through?
  • How much will the work cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • Do you regularly work with the same contractors? (This is good to know, as contractors who know the Landscape Architect’s work will usually be able to follow their plans more efficiently.)
  • Do you expect there to be any problems with planning permission?

What happens next?

Once you have met with the Landscape Architect, it is important that they should view the area they will be working on as soon as possible - bring some photos to the initial meeting, but they will be no substitute for actually seeing the space ‘in the flesh’. The Landscape Architect may then want to go away and draw up some initial notes and plans, but they should keep you informed of what’s happening at each stage.

Once the core group of designers, architects and planners start to work together, plans will invariably change significantly; you should stay up to date on these developments as much as you can - ask questions!

What can I expect to pay?

Landscape Architects are highly-trained professionals, and can charge a high rate. As each individual project will have its own unique requirements, costs and fees can vary dramatically, so it is wise to make sure whoever you talk to is aware of the budget you are working with. If your local University offers a Landscape Architecture course, it may be worth contacting new graduates, who will need to gain experience to get on in the industry, and may well work for a reduced rate.

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